Unchained Love


I think this is establishing itself as a decade of nostalgia. More often, I'm going back to the moments that pushed me down or lifted me up; sometimes I'm able to see they did both. I'm sure it's because I'm in that phase of parenting when sharing some of those experiences with my daughter might help to make hers easier.

This morning, I read a status update from a friend about sending secret carnations to crushes (at least that's who we hoped they were from) in high school and how it's a practice that's still happening (cringe) today. 

In the five years I spent at high school, I received zero carnations. And, yes, of course it means nothing now, but it did back then. I remember those deliveries to our homerooms very well. Emotions bring a sharp focus to memories. 

My self-esteem was shaky at best and my shyness held me back from so much then. I wanted to find my place, and I definitely had crushes, but I hid. Outward shows of popularity reminded me how successfully I was hidden. But the day would come and go, and I'd move on from the experience with a fresh bruise on my heart.

Back then, when you hung out with your friends on the weekend, you put the radio on in the background and hoped your favourite song would come on so you could turn it up loud and sing along. 

If you really wanted to hear a song, you had to call the radio station's DJ and request it. 

I decided to make a request that night.

It was the weekend, and it was late because my sister and I had some friends staying over. At our local station, once the on-air DJs left for the night, college interns would come in to answer the phones and take over the playlists. 

He answered and took my request.

He made fun of the song choice.

Then he asked for my name.

I made one up. 

I was about to hang up and get back to our friends, when he said, Hold on.

Your voice; it's beautifulI want to keep talking to you. 

Let me go ahead and fast forward through all your concerns that he said that to every girl who called and asked for a song. I had the same thought, and maybe it was true. But I decided I felt safe enough being on the other end of a phone that was attached to the wall of our family room, which was filled with our friends, who made me feel bold.

So we talked until I moved into another room, and we and talked and talked some more.

For the next few months, I called him on the weekends he was covering the night shift.

And in the early morning hours, we swapped stories about favourite books and songs that made us cry.

He played every one of them for me. 

He told me I was intelligent and wise, and that I would do great things. 

Then one night he asked me what I looked like. Again my memory is sharp for this moment, and all these years later, I can still see myself as I pulled the phone over to a full-length mirror that was leaning up against the wall of my room. I sat down cross-legged in front of my reflection with the phone held to my ear.

And I looked at my face, like I was a stranger seeing it for the first time.

I had never seen beauty there before.

But I saw it looking back at me, and I laughed and cried when I told him what he had helped me see. 

We finally worked up the courage to meet in real life. I was 16 and he had just turned 19. I let my sister know where I would be, and we met in a public place. He told me what he would be wearing, but I already knew who I was looking for.

A few weeks earlier, my sister and I took the bus to the library downtown and pulled the yearbook for his senior year at high school from the shelf. He wasn't my type at all, but maybe I wouldn't be his either.

By then we had spent months getting to know one another without the benefit or detriment of seeing each other first—I had never been so truly myself with anyone before him. I told myself types didn't have to matter.

We saw the movie Ghost that first night, and there was a nervous energy between us that I can't describe. It was one of the most vulnerable and tenderhearted moments I've ever experienced. 

We met up a couple more times after that, and we continued with our late night talks. As we uncovered more differences between us, we decided it was best to part ways. He was in his first year of college, he smoked, he partied, he had big plans to have a lot of fun. We both knew we weren't each others' types, and that eventually it would matter.

And it wasn't hard to move on, because I felt I was taking more away than I was leaving behind. 

We chose a night to talk for the last time, and as his shift came to an end, he said,

I want to play you one more song.

I'll always be grateful to him for the way I changed during the months I let him get to know me.  I came out from hiding and went on to have a healthy, long-term relationship in my last year of high school—because a late night DJ who liked the sound of my voice helped me find my worth.

Later today, I heard that song played for Valentine's Day, and I didn't think of carnations—I thought of him.


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